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Students hit out at Edinburgh ‘gagging clause’

The university inserted the clause as a condition of grant when awarding Edinburgh University Students's Association (EUSA) 2.3 million pounds in July. Picture: TSPL

The university inserted the clause as a condition of grant when awarding Edinburgh University Students's Association (EUSA) 2.3 million pounds in July. Picture: TSPL

  • by CHRIS MARSHALL AND JOHN HEWITT JONES
 

STUDENT leaders at one of the country’s leading universities were forced to sign a contract agreeing not to criticise the institution without giving management prior notice.

Edinburgh University said it would only continue to fund its students’ association if it was given 48 hours’ notice of any “detrimental” statement or publication.

The university inserted the clause as a condition of grant when awarding Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) £2.3 million in July.

However, it removed an earlier condition that the university’s secretary or principal should be able to edit anything which was being considered for publication.

Representing the interests of students on campus, EUSA is made up of elected officers who take a year out from studies.

In a letter to EUSA president Hugh Murdoch, the university’s director of finance, Phil McNaull, wrote: “The university recognises the rights of individual students and the student body to raise matters of various kinds with the university in an effort to stimulate healthy debate and a better environment for all.

“However, documents intended for publication that – were they to be appraised by an independent ordinary member of the public – may be considered detrimental to the interests of the student body or the university community, should be provided to the university secretary at least two days prior to submission for publication.”

Last week, the university was criticised after two students were detained by police during a visit by Princess Anne.

Hona-Luisa Cohen-Fuentes and Euan Kidston claimed they were “assaulted” by staff and detained for nearly six hours by police after the university said they “could not provide a satisfactory explanation” for their presence in a restricted area.

While Scots do not pay fees to attend Edinburgh University, students from elsewhere in the UK pay £9,000 a year in tuition, with students from overseas paying considerably more.

The introduction of a market into higher education means universities are keener than ever to protect their reputations and attract students.

Commenting on the condition of grant, Gordon Maloney, president of the National Union of Students in Scotland, said: “It’s completely unacceptable for Edinburgh University to place this condition on students’ association officers, which could restrict their ability to give honest and constructive criticism over university policies which affect the students they are elected to represent.

“The addition of such a condition is beneath a university which for hundreds of years has built a strong reputation for fostering new ideas and critical thinkers, and should not be seen by other universities in Scotland as a green light to impose similar conditions on their elected representatives.

“We would strongly urge the university to make clear that the associations’ block grant funding, and the student support services and jobs that this money funds, will not be under threat this year or any year due to this unnecessary condition.”

The university said there was nothing in the conditions of grant which prevented students expressing opinions about it.

A spokesman said “The University of Edinburgh takes the welfare of its students and its reputation very seriously.

“In order to protect both these interests we ask EUSA that documents intended for the public are shared with university management prior to publication. This allows us to consider their content and respond appropriately.”

 

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